Tonight's blog is hijacked by some pretty excellent thoughts, though not my own, resonate within me deeply. I so miss listening to inspirational, thoughtful, and powerful speakers. The air feels empty from the lack of words that filled the heart and inspired the soul. I took a break today to remind myself of what they sounded like, and they seemed to echo within the very chambers of my heart. I place them, here, with reverence, and to remind myself and perhaps you, that you and I, were meant for finer things.
"It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America. And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, the idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America -- that idea ultimately triumphed.
As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.
We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching towards justice.
They did as Scripture instructed: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” And in the days to come, they went back again and again."
"Now, looking back to our history, our founding fathers put forth founding documents that were indeed genius. But our founding documents weren't genius because they were perfect. They were saddled with the imperfections and even the bigotry of the past. Native Americans were referred to as savages. Black Americans were fractions of human beings. And women were not mentioned at all.
But those facts and ugly parts of our history don't distract from our nation's greatness. In fact, I believe we are an even greater nation, not because we started perfect, but because every generation has successfully labored to make us a more perfect union.
Generations of heroic Americans have made our nation more inclusive, more expansive, and more just.
Our nation wasn't founded because we all look alike or prayed alike or descended from the same family tree. But our founders, in their genius, in this, the oldest constitutional democracy on the planet Earth, they put forth the idea that all are created equal, that we have inalienable rights.
And I'm so proud that upon this faithful foundation that we built a great nation. And today, no matter who you are -- rich or poor, Asian or white, man or woman, gay or straight, any religion or none at all -- you are entitled to the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship."
"Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. The wise saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It is true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them. This is why they killed 14 innocent students in the recent attack in Quetta. And that is why they kill female teachers. That is why they are blasting schools every day because they were and they are afraid of change and equality that we will bring to our society. And I remember that there was a boy in our school who was asked by a journalist: “Why are the Taliban against education?”He answered very simply by pointing to his book, he said: “A Talib doesn’t know what is written inside this book.”
We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education. No one can stop us. We will speak up for our rights and we will bring change to our voice. We believe in the power and the strength of our words. Our words can change the whole world because we are all together, united for the cause of education. And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.
So let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first. Thank you."
"We do not know, we do not know. We shall live from day to day, and put more locks on the doors, and get a fine fierce dog , and hold on to our handbags more tenaciously; and the beauty of the trees by night, and the raptures of lovers under the stars, these things we shall forego. We shall forego the coming home drunken through the midnight streets, and the evening walk over the star-lit veld. We shall be careful, and knock this off our lives, and knock that off our lives, and hedge ourselves about with safety and precaution. And our lives will shrink, but they shall be the lives of superior beings; and we shall live with fear, but at least it will not be a fear of the unknown.
The truth is, our civilization is not Christian; it is a tragic compound of great ideal and fearful practice, of loving charity and fearful clutching of possessions.
I see only one hope for our country, and that is when white men and black men, desiring neither power nor money, but desiring only the good of their country, come together to work for it."
"So for all the young people in this room and those who are watching, know that this country belongs to you -- to all of you, from every background and walk of life. If you or your parents are immigrants, know that you are part of a proud American tradition -- the infusion of new cultures, talents and ideas, generation after generation, that has made us the greatest country on earth.
If your family doesn't have much money, I want you to remember that in this country, plenty of folks, including me and my husband -- we started out with very little. But with a lot of hard work and a good education, anything is possible -- even becoming President. That's what the American Dream is all about.
If you are a person of faith, know that religious diversity is a great American tradition, too. In fact, that's why people first came to this country -- to worship freely. And whether you are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh -- these religions are teaching our young people about justice, and compassion, and honesty. So I want our young people to continue to learn and practice those values with pride. You see, our glorious diversity -- our diversities of faiths and colors and creeds -- that is not a threat to who we are, it makes us who we are. (Applause.) So the young people here and the young people out there: Do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don't matter, or like you don't have a place in our American story -- because you do. And you have a right to be exactly who you are. But I also want to be very clear: This right isn't just handed to you. No, this right has to be earned every single day. You cannot take your freedoms for granted. Just like generations who have come before you, you have to do your part to preserve and protect those freedoms. And that starts right now, when you're young.
Right now, you need to be preparing yourself to add your voice to our national conversation. You need to prepare yourself to be informed and engaged as a citizen, to serve and to lead, to stand up for our proud American values and to honor them in your daily lives. And that means getting the best education possible so you can think critically, so you can express yourself clearly, so you can get a good job and support yourself and your family, so you can be a positive force in your communities.
And when you encounter obstacles -- because I guarantee you, you will, and many of you already have -- when you are struggling and you start thinking about giving up, I want you to remember something that my husband and I have talked about since we first started this journey nearly a decade ago, something that has carried us through every moment in this White House and every moment of our lives, and that is the power of hope -- the belief that something better is always possible if you're willing to work for it and fight for it.
It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and in the life of this country. Our hope that if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, then we can be whatever we dream, regardless of the limitations that others may place on us. The hope that when people see us for who we truly are, maybe, just maybe they, too, will be inspired to rise to their best possible selves."
Sometimes I cling to words of hope and truth, and let them strengthen the parts of my heart that have grown weary or doubtful. And sometimes I listen to music that reminds me that I can rise.
Keep moving forward,
1. President Barack Obama at the 50th Anniversary of the March in Selma
2. Cory Booker at the Democratic National Convention
3. Malaya Yousafazi's address to the United Nations (She was 16).
4. Alan Paton's book, Cry, the Beloved Country. He was writing about South Africa, y'all.
5. Michelle Obama's final speech as First Lady in 2016